I used to love this book as a teenager, but that was quite a long time ago, and, unsurprisingly, it has suffered a bit in the meantime. It’s not so much that the future it describes has by now become past (the first manned expedition to Mars takes places in 1999 here) – after all, science fiction always is much more about the time it was written in than about the future it purports to predict. Which did cause some of the issues I was having on this re-read though, namely that the attitudes displayed by the text are very much of their time – while there is one story that strongly critizises the self-delusions of white supremacy, the same story also presents Afro-Americans as cringe-inducing racial stereotpyes, and don’t even get me started on the way women are portrayed throughout all of the stories collected here. And talking about cringing: Bradbury can be horribly preachy (“Usher II” is the worst offender here), and in general is not much given to subtlety, which again ties into another problem, namely the sometimes very crude and awkward structuring of the narratives, like the numerous examples of expositionary dialogue of the “As you know, Bob…” variety.
There are some redeeming features, though – well, there is one, but that is quite a weighty one, at least to my mind, and that is the specific quality of Bradbury’s writing – nobody does nostalgia and the melancholy for things lost quite as well as he does and his descriptions of empty Mars, its dried canals and crumbling cities, deserted dwellings and desolate landscape are as beautiful as they are eerie, their mood likely to haunt the reader’s mind for a long time after turning the last page of the book. It certainly did mine, and while I’m not quite as enthusiastic about Martian Chronicles as I was as a teenager, I still enjoyed it for that sensation of autumnal melancholy.